WAVELAND -- A taste of the islands has come to Waveland.
Rum Kitchen recently opened in what locals know as "the old Kmart" at 324 U.S. 90; specifically, the corner of 90 and Mississippi 603 (or Nicholson Avenue, if you're looking south). It's the creation of John "Chappy" Chapman -- yes, that Chappy, who once owned Chappy's in Long Beach then opened restaurants in Nashville, Gulfport and New Orleans.
I went for a late lunch one recent weekday. Rum Kitchen hits just the right vibe for pretty much any dress, from shorts to suits, so patrons ran the gamut from vacationers to folks on their lunch breaks to retirees.
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The menu is surprisingly broad, offering appetizers, salads, plates, sandwiches and burgers, tacos, desserts and drinks listed under "Rummys" and "Ritas." Since it was lunch, no "Rummy" or "Rita" for me, but the options looked fun -- Powder Monkey, Cube Libre, Blind Pig, Rita Meter Maid, Salty Dog, Soba Rock .
Several items appealed to me, but I narrowed my choices to an order of fried plantains ($6.95) off the appetizer list and the Rum Chicken ($15.95) off the "Me Hearty Plates" list. Somehow I resisted the urge to snarl "Arrgh!" in a piratey voice as I placed my order.
A bounty of choices
What are some of the other choices? Well, consider Avocado Mango Dip ($8.95), a guacamole with the sweet surprise of mango, served with salsa and fried chips; fried calamari ($9.95), served with RK dipping sauce or remoulade; Grilled Mahi & Hearts of Palm Salad ($13.95); Marinated Brisket Salad ($13.95); Cook Up Lamb ($20.95), braised lamb in a rustic tomato curry and served with whipped potatoes; Red Curry Shrimp ($16.95), jumbo shrimp in a creamy red curry sauce and served with coconut mango rice; Cuban pressed sandwich ($12.95), pulled pork, ham, tomato, pickles, Swiss cheese and Creole horseradish aioli, or the Brisket Melt ($11.95), chopped beef brisket, Monterey Jack cheese, onions, sauteed mushrooms, spinach and Creole horseradish aioli. Sandwiches and burgers are served with sweet potato fries or french fries.
In more of a taco mood? There are plenty to choose from, ranging from $3.25 to $3.75: brisket, Duck 'Mon, jerk chicken, lamb curry, beef, Miss Queen, Creole rib, pork molé, fried oyster, chili glazed shrimp and vegetarian are a few examples.
The plantains arrived hot on a bed of torn lettuce with RK Sauce on the side. Plantains, which must be cooked before they are eaten, are a starchy, low-sugar relative of the banana. You get a slight banana flavor and a creamy consistency when you bite into the battered and fried slices. The addictive RK sauce was sweet with a gentle afterburn, courtesy of Scotch bonnet peppers. I later learned 37 spices contribute to its complex flavor.
A big plate
Rum Chicken is a platter full of deliciousness. You get a generous serving of grilled chicken breast with RK sauce, served with equally generous jerked vegetables and coconut mango rice. I easily got two meals out of it. I drizzled RK sauce from the plantains over the rice (yes, it's that good), although it was delicious on its own. The coconut definitely comes through, and small chunks of mango add more flavor and a touch of sweetness. The vegetables -- green beans, cauliflower and onions -- were cooked just right; in other words, firm, not limp.
The restaurateur decided to go a different direction from his more familiar fare, with inspiration from his travels.
"I wanted to do big flavors -- unpretentious, good food with a Caribbean flair," he said. "Through my escapades to the Caribbean, I learned to make it."
Tacos are made with all-corn shells that "aren't hard, but they aren't soft," Chapman said. "We sell a lot of mahi tacos and Cuban sandwiches. We slow-roast our pork, and the ham is cut off the bone. It's authentically delicious food."